Striving for Zero Death in the SAF

Posted: 16th August 2010 By Admin

2001-2009 Review

A review on the MINDEF website ( reveals that there were 35 deaths during the period 2001-09. The summary of Regulars and National Servicemen’s deaths from 2001-2009 is detailed in table below. See Annex for the details of the data compilation.

 * Regulars refer to Officers or WOSEs.

Analysis of the Past Data
From 2001-2009, there were 3.9 deaths on average per year.  The average number of deaths per year increased by 48% from 3.2 to 4.75, and this is largely due to a significant increase in average deaths of regular military commanders of 67%.

Out of the 35 fatalities,

  • 5 (14%) are young trainees who were undergoing physical training; and,
  • 11 (31%) occurred when running was conducted. Out of the 11 deaths, 6 (54%) were ³ 35 years old, and 6 (54%) were regulars.

Those in the high-risk groups are the young trainees, and those aged 35 and above, while the high-risk training is physical exercise.

In order to defend the country, servicemen must survive peacetime training, so that they can fulfill their operational duties. Although the cause of death for those participating in running leading to death (31% of the total deaths from 2001-2009) may not be fully understood, the Reform Party believes that MINDEF should seek to use its resources in every way possible to ensure zero death. Specifically on physical exercise-related deaths, I have the following recommendations for MINDEF and the SAF.

  • The intention of Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) is detailed below.

“As frontline soldiers, it is essential for all NSmen to maintain physical fitness. The IPPT is designed to test the basic components of physical fitness and motor skills of the NSmen.1

IPPT consists of 5 stations: 2.4km run, sit-up, standing broad jump, shuttle run and chin-up. For soldiers who are on the heavy side, performing chin-up may be a problem, but they may be able to perform long distance march carrying heavy load. Standing broad jump disadvantages those with shorter legs, and the knees take a hit for older soldiers each time during the jump. Is there real evidence that failing the IPPT means that the soldier is unable to perform his operational role? If IPPT is a direct measure of combat fitness, IPPT failures should be exempted from combat duties and participation in military exercises. While a physical fitness test is needed to ascertain the soldiers’ fitness, there is a need to rationalize the design of IPPT and link it to the combat roles of the servicemen. As the SAF invested in modernizing its capabilities through technologies, the components and standards of the IPPT should be reviewed in tandem with the changing physical demands of soldiering in a 3G SAF. There should be no soldiers dying, either training for or participating in any form of physical exercise.

  • IPPT result is currently being used as one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for many SAF units. Do senior commanders set realistic IPPT targets, and thus at every command level, is there an overemphasis on IPPT achievements? While it is commendable to know that our regular commanders are putting in effort to maintain their fitness through running and exercising, it would be better if they can set good examples in looking after themselves and ensuring their own safety when undertaking physical exercises, as 54% of the 11 deaths from 2000-2009 occurred to regular commanders. During In-Camp Training for NSmen, the Commander’s planning guidance is that NSmen must attempt and pass the IPPT. Normally there is little time for proper training to prepare for the IPPT diuring the In-Camp Training. Why would the NS units not trust the NSmen to be responsible to complete them when they are physically ready? Is IPPT achievement the correct KPI for measuring the performance of a good soldier? Or is it a KPI that affects the performance of the SAF unit?
  • Running, unlike outfield training, is a normal physical activity that is carried out at a high frequency. Specifically for younger trainees, more training time should be given to allow them to pass the required standards, since 15% of the total deaths from 2000-2009 are young trainees who were undergoing physical training. If they are not ready for the physical test/requirements, longer preparation time should be allowed before the soldier takes the physical tests. It must be accepted that current sedentary lifestyle of young male Singaporeans who spend too much time in non-physical activities and possibly unhealthy diet may need longer preparation time for their physical tests. After all, NSmen can take their IPPT as many times as they want, and as and when they are ready within the window of a year. So why not new recruits and trainees? For example, the young soldiers should be able to decide when they are ready to take the IPPT, as long they pass their IPPT during the duration of their full-time national service. One of the ideas in reforming the IPPT would be to train physically weaker soldiers to excel in 1.2km and gradually condition them to meet the timing demands of 1.8km before the actual 2.4km. This step-by-step training conditions the soldier for the eventual 2.4km run. A conditioning programme should be developed and put in place specifically for 1st year soldier for all physical exercises. Without attaining passes in the conditioning programme, the soldier should not be allowed to attempt the IPPT 2.4km run or participate in long distance run/strenuous physical exercises.
  • Currently, servicemen aged 35, 40 and 45 need to, as part of Phase I Medical Screening, undergo an Exercise Stress Testing (EST), which requires them to perform walks and runs on treadmill while connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. If servicemen fail the EST, they would not be allowed to take the IPPT, which includes a 2.4km run – a fitness test on cardio-respiratory endurance. At present, for new recruits suspected to have cardiac problems, they may be referred for EST to verify their PES status. Should such medical screening be made available at all SAF units and be incorporated as part of routine health checks before servicemen undertake long distance run or 2.4km? Would such screening be a preventive measure, especially for the high-risk group: young trainees and those above 35, and help keep the “gung-ho” attitude of regular servicemen in check?

Reform Party believes that every death in training is one too many. Reform Party believes that a more concerted approach should be taken to strive for zero death. Since 2005, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) had maintained an outstanding record of zero fatality for pilots. In construction sites around Singapore, a zero-accident target is set as a key priority. Reform Party sees training deaths as a key issue in defence, and would like the issue to be covered as part of the annual parliamentary brief on defence to review and report on what more has been and what else can be done to ensure zero death.

Reform Party believes that zero death must be the Key Performance Indicator for a peacetime armed force. We should treat every son, brother and father of a family, regardless whether they are Regular or National Servicemen, like how the RSAF ensures safety for their pilots.  Because for the mother, wife and child, the serviceman is non-replaceable and no amount of compensation can make up for the pains and loss of losing him.

Tony Tan Lay Thiam
Reform Party


5 Responses to Striving for Zero Death in the SAF

Peter li on

Hmm….it is a good article with stats n analysis. However, Can ur proposals 100% ensure death, of any nature, will not occur in training?

Jeff Pang on

The current system under the SAF has been and still is continually improving, even though I don’t think it is perfect and I hate NS and the mandatory IPPTs. Currently, if you fail the IPPT, you will be subjected to Remedial Training, which is in essence similar to what you are proposing, and IPPT is not the reason of deaths.

This proposal is mainly focus on the aspects of IPPT and Conditioning in Physical Exercise, by my knowledge, many of these deaths are due to cardiac arrests, and the real reason of why these cardiac arrests occur are not really known. Many of these deaths happens even on physically fit individuals and some athletic types.

I am not against setting of KPI, but I am wondering how that can be achieved because having a KPI means that there must be some means of achieving it, just like a sales target, sell harder and smarter and you may be able to reach the goal. Accidents can be prevented until a point.

Ric L on

Zero Death is not possible or achievable, Accident happen and people die.
I served in the 80s, more then 10 death, some are close friends and colleagues.

A few of them the only son in the family, elderly parents can’t accept that their son is gone at such a young age, they are left with nothing but ashes.

I rather you have mandatory compensation to the family who lost a member for the country, a life long financial support to the aged parents, education support for the fallen comrades siblings or children. This is more piratical then trying to go for zero death.

Wilfred Ling on

I agree. I suggest that the government mandatory insure each NSmen of $1 million. Premiums to be paid by tax payer monies.

Truth on

The 4 naval servicewomen who died at sea after a collison with a tanker and the F-16 pilot who died in Arizona after crashing his jet into the ground, were they included in the count?

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